Khæli could remember nothing from that day. Granted she was only five at the time, but even so, she did have memories from "before," or, at least, vague fragments, wisps of recollection, of faces, places, smells. She knew her father's beard was bristly, his lap bony, his arms strong. She knew her mother never wore an apron and instead wiped her hands on her skirt; some days you could see the flour smeared down her front and know there was pie in the oven before you could catch a whiff of it baking. She knew her two older brothers were much much faster than her, but when the three of them would race to the top of the hill overlooking the cottage, they would move at a slower pace so that her trouncing wasn't utterly so.
But of the day they died, she could recall nothing — "a blessing in the midst of such horror," neighbors would agree when, for many years to come, they continued to gossip about the family's grisly deaths. The screams that emanated from the cottage that day had caused all nearby to run to investigate, thinking perhaps there'd been some accident on the little farm, like the time Pattro's donkey had kicked Rana and broken her jaw. But the broken bones and blood they found were far from accidental. The family had been brutally murdered — Khæli's mother, her father, her brothers, all bludgeoned in turn, all caught in the middle of their daily chores, the mundane suddenly tragic: Her mother in the kitchen, peeling potatoes; her father and oldest brother on their way to the barn; the other brother in the chicken coop.
"What happened?" people asked. She didn't know.
"Where were you?" people asked. She didn't know.
"Do you know who did this?" people asked. She didn't know.
That a child's mind would block out the horror of such violence was no surprise to anyone. But what was remarkable, and what forever after made the neighbors frown and whisper with suspicion, were the discrepancies between all stories pertaining to Khæli on that fateful day. Pattro claimed to find her, cowering behind the front door of the cottage. Rana swore it was her that first noticed the girl, tucked up in the branches of the oak tree just beyond the barn. Jorge countered that he was the one who had rescued her, from a tot-sized alcove cleared beneath the twisted blackberry brambles. Jayne found her inside the barn; Koril found her outside. Hidden or dispersed, in all these places or perhaps in none of them, Khæli had survived.
"She must have seen something," everyone agreed, and not simply because the hiding spots of a five-year-old are all too frequently transparent. For on that day, the child's long black hair had suddenly turned a shocking white. "The doings of pure Evil," some neighbors pronounced. "Nae," others retorted. "Good souls must have protected the child." What no one disputed, however, was that the shadows were strong with the child. And Khæli, whether she'd hidden in the darkness or fought against the darkness on that day, found herself drawn to the shadows.